I had a good two-week visit to Paris, where I worked at both the Mitterand and Richelieu sites of the Bibliothèque nationale, the Collège de France and the École normale supérieure. It was something of a transitional trip, doing a little with some loose ends on the Foucault work, an article, the Mitra-Varuna editing, and beginning to think more seriously about the wider Indo-European project.
The Richelieu site of the BnF is in the final stages of a massive renovation. It’s been a building site for all the years I’ve been working there. The manuscripts room was closed for a period earlier this year, which meant I wasn’t able to do a final visit when finishing The Archaeology of Foucault. While I’d done all the key work on the 1960s, there were a couple of small things I wanted to check, and there is lot more relating to the later periods of Foucault’s career that wasn’t available when I wrote Foucault’s Last Decade. The allure of the archive… always more to explore.
I looked at a few things from the 1970s and 1980s, but what I can say is that if you are interested in the later Foucault, there is so much to be done. There are substantial materials relating to abandoned and unfinished books – the project on technologies of the self, the manuscript on the medieval church under the title of La Chair et le corps, all Foucault’s materials relating to Les Aveux de la chair published in 2018, substantial fragments of La croisade des enfants on the campaign against childhood masturbation, the project on hermaphrodites…
None of this material was accessible (at least to me) when I did the research for Foucault’s Last Decade, but it is a rich and largely untapped resource. I don’t know what plans there are for publishing from this material but what I have seen seems to me often to be as developed as some of the material from the 1950s and 1960s currently being edited for the Gallimard/Seuil/EHESS series ‘Cours et travaux avant le Collège de France’.
Excellent work has been done on Foucault archival material, by among others, Daniel Defert, Henri-Paul Fruchaud, Frédéric Gros, Daniele Lorenzini, Philippe Sabot, Elisabetta Basso, Arianna Sforzini, Orazio Irrera, Bernard Harcourt, Claude-Olivier Doron, Philippe Chevallier… I know some PhD and post-docs have done work that is waiting to be published – including Luke Ilott, Aner Barzilay, Valentina Antoniol… but fascinating PhDs, articles and books are just waiting to be written. To my mind this is all much more interesting than some of the debates dominating anglophone Foucault studies.
At the École normale supérieure, I was again using the Georges Canguilhem collection, held at CAPHÉS. This was to look at some books in his library, especially with dedications from Jean Hyppolite and one from Georges Dumézil, and a few drafts of pieces about Hyppolite. I discuss the Canguilhem, Dumézil, Hyppolite connections in a piece for a theme issue of Revue internationale de philosophie on Canguilhem, edited by Federico Testa, which will be discussed at a workshop on 16 May. I wasn’t able to get to this archive when drafting that piece, so there were a number of things I wanted to check and a couple of things to correct.
At the Collège de France, this was a preliminary visit to the Dumézil archive. I’d only been here once before to look at some of the Dumézil-Foucault correspondence when I was writing The Early Foucault. I plan to come here a lot for the Indo-European project, but on this trip I just consulted two lecture courses and a small file of papers about the Mitra-Varuna book. This is intended to help with the work for the Introduction to the new edition of that text. There is a huge amount of material here, and it’s going to be a lot of work. One major challenge is his awful handwriting – and I thought Foucault was difficult. Of course, nearly everything here was written only for him to read, but even so….
At the BnF Mitterand, I did some work on the references for the Mitra-Varuna text, checking more of Dumézil’s references and adding some detail to the Introduction. I am now down to about a dozen of Dumézil’s references which I’ve been unable so far to verify. Six of those are to texts which I don’t think have been translated from Sanskrit, a couple are secondary works which I hope I can resolve at the British Library this week, and some are, I think, simple errors. One is a really hard-to-find text. At some point I will probably share the remaining reference problems, hoping someone can help.
Having found Foucault’s Collège de France course summaries so useful – his reflective thoughts on a course and its themes, usually written a few months after their conclusion – I was hoping that the ones for Dumézil and Émile Benveniste would be similarly interesting. Each issue of the Annuaire de Collège de France lists the forthcoming year’s courses, and each Professor reports on the year just gone and their publications. But they are sadly rather perfunctory, and Dumézil in particular seems to lose interest in doing this task. Nonetheless, they still offer some valuable information as I seek to reconstruct their work. [Update: I’ve since found a reference to Dumézil being reluctant to share too much in his summaries for fear of the ideas being stolen before he had a chance to publish them.]
I am hoping that I can wrap up the editing work on Mitra-Varuna in the next few weeks, and then shift to a long-delayed article.